LEGITIMACY OF LAW & LORE: A READING ON TERRY PRATCHETT’S THE FIFTH ELEPHANT
“Down there it’s the lore,” Vimes panted and its paws scrabbled for purchase on the greasy branch. ‘But up here, it’s me.”
Here be spoilers.
Fred Colon just got a promotion. As Acting Captain of Ankh-Morpork City Watch, he is now responsible for the mountain of paperwork left behind by two officers- one, Commander Samuel Vimes (with Corporal Cheery and Sergeant Detritus) who was on a diplomatic mission to dark and mysterious Uberwald, and two, Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson, resigned pro tem inpursuit of Sergeant Angua von Uberwald, runaway girlfriend bound to Uberwald also.
Acting Captain Fred Colon must now acquaint himself with the perks of office, read reports magisterially, sign payrolls, deal with insubordination and endure plots to overthrow him courtesy of Guild of Watchmen, newly established.
Or not…well, it could be that story. But Terry Pratchett must have had a problem with Colon figuring in many action scenes that he relegated most part of the novels to the adventures of Vimes and Co. Ultimately, I believe that the events in Ankh-Morpork and Uberwald parallels with each other, well except the Death defying werewolf chase and assassination plots against Vimes. It is basically the same story. A story of legitimacy of claim to authority and power which Acting Captain Colon admittedly is out of his league.
For Ankh-Morpork, the symbol and form of law is Samuel Vimes, I’m not sure whether he is aware of the fact or not. That is why Colon is having a lot of problems in his incumbency. He’s just Fred Colon not Mister Vimes, observed Nobby.
UBERWALD’S TRIAD OF POWER: THE KING OF LORE, QUEEN OF TEMPERANCE & THE NOBLE SAVAGE
Despite what Vimes says, Uberwald is not entirely lawless. As an outsider, he’s just not acquainted with the forms of order in the place. There are three powers that keeps the balances in check in Uberwald, the Dwarf Low Halls (authority in all of Discworld Dwarfdom), the Temperance League of Vampires led by eccentric visionary Lady Morgolotta, and the werewolf nobility the von Uberwalds (Angua’s family).
Among the three powers, most politically adept is Lady Morgolotta. If they are to survive the Century of the Fruitbat and the next, they must change their ways. Draining human blood means not being popular in society. And they need society to like them so they won’t be staked or threatened to be burned to death.
As for the werewolves, savage though they are, they still follow a law- the law of nature, survival of the fittest- that is run fast or perish.
Yet the most complicated and the focus of the story is the scandal currently brewing in the Low Halls of the dwarfs, the theft of the Scone of Stone, the symbol of power for all Discworld dwarfs. Again, we see things in Vimes’ point of view as he dismiss the object as a mere relic of the past. What he is not aware is that his being an officer of the law is in itself a lore. As he observes in the proceeding novels, what is a Watchman after all but his badge? You magic a policeman in people’s heads, but ultimately he doesn’t exist. The moment people realize that a Watchman is just another person among people with conflicting interest, what will stop them from clubbing him?
The same is true of the Scone of Stone. It is after all the essence of being a dwarf, the beginning of their history. Without it, there is no legitimate claim to authority. Dwarfs will start to argue everything. There will be no law, trade will be strained, political instability will result to civil unrest. Ankh-Morpork being the biggest dwarf city in all of the Disc will collapse.
I think that of all the City Watch novels before it, The Fifth Elephant is the most thematically complex. It is also the novel where most of the characters matured and gained more depth. Sam Vimes and Captain Carrot more than most started to become aware of their position in society as enforcer of law and order- the cornerstone of modern societies. They are no longer the thief-takers who interrupted a war in Jingo just to apprehend all offending armies for malicious loitering and eyeballing the enemy. They are now the ones who keep law and order so the small people can get on with their lives.
The schism is taking a toll represented by the wolves themselves, who falls prey to human revenge whenever the werewolves are having their Game. Gavin, the alpha wolf (Angua’s old flame) is considered as the pack’s legitimate leader. And then there’s Angua herself, torn between being human and being wolf and not being one nor the other. She also arrives at a resolution in this novel. And then there’s Cheery. The out-woman dwarf torn between obedience to lore and her desire for personal freedom. What is the law doing for them? Where do they fit in?
As the horizon of the City Watch novels broaden, they start to take up a more serious tone and it starts here in The Fifth Elephant. It’s been hard reviewing (and rereading) The Fifth Elephant because I know that the next one would be the most heartbreaking novel I’ve ever read in my whole reading career. Please see my next review to appear on April 28 for Terry Pratchett’s fan favorite, Night Watch.